Around 5:30 a.m. the morning after Christmas Day, 1996, Patsy Ramsey found a ransom note on the family's back staircase demanding $118,000 for her six-year-old daughter, JonBenet, and called 911. Later that day, John Ramsey discovered JonBenet's body in a spare room in the basement. She had been strangled with a garrote, and her mouth had been bound with duct tape. John Ramsey removed the duct tape and carried her body upstairs.
The Early Investigation:
From the very beginning, the investigation into the death of JonBenet Ramsey focused on members of the family. Boulder, Colorado investigators went to the Atlanta home of the Ramseys to search for clue and served a search warrant on their summer home in Michigan. Police took hair and blood samples from members of the Ramsey family. The Ramseys tell the press "there is a killer on the loose" but Boulder officials downplay the prospect that a killer is threatening city residents.
The Ransom Note:
The investigation into the murder of JonBenet Ramsey focused on the three-page ransom note, which was apparently written on a note pad found in the house. Handwriting samples were taken from the Ramseys and John Ramsey was ruled out as the author of the note, but police could not eliminate Patsy Ramsey as the writer. District Attorney Alex Hunter tells the media that the parents are obviously the focus of the investigation.
Expert Prosecution Task Force:
District attorney Hunter forms an Expert Prosecution Task Force, including forensic expert Henry Lee and DNA expert Barry Scheck. In March, 1997 retired homicide detective Lou Smit, who solved the Heather Dawn Church murder in Colorado Spring, is hired to head the investigation team. Smit's investigation would eventually point to an intruder as the perpetrator, which conflicted with the DA's theory that someone in the family was responsible for JonBenet's death.
From the beginning of the case, there was a disagreement between investigators and the DA's office about the focus of the investigation. In August 1997, Detective Steve Thomas resigns, saying the DA's office is "thoroughly compromised." In September, Lou Smit also resigns saying he, "cannot in good conscience be a part of the persecution of innocent people." Lawrence Schiller's book, Perfect Murder, Perfect Town
, describes the feud between police and prosecutors.
After 15 months of investigation, the Boulder police decide the best way to solve the murder is a grand-jury investigation. In March 1998, police interview John and Patsy Ramsey a second time and do an extensive interview with their 11-year-old son Burke, who was reported as a possible suspect by some in the press. A leak to the news media indicate that Burke's voice could be heard in the background of the 911 call Patsy made, although she said he was asleep until after police arrived.
Grand Jury Convenes:
On Sept. 16, 1998, five months after they were chosen, Boulder County grand jurors began their investigation. They heard forensic evidence, analysis of handwriting, DNA evidence, and hair and fiber evidence. They visited the Ramsey's former Boulder home in October 1998. In December of 1998 the grand jury recesses for four month while DNA evidence from other members of the Ramsey family, who were not suspects, can be compared to that found at the scene.
Hunter and Smit Clash:
In February 1999, District Attorney Alex Hunter demanded that detective Lou Smit return evidence that he collected while he worked on the case, including crime scene photographs. Smit refuses "even if I have to go to jail" because he believed the evidence would be destroyed if returned, because it supported the intruder theory. Hunter filed a restraining order and got a court injunction demanding the evidence. Hunter also refused to allow Smit to testify before the grand jury.
Smit Seeks Court Order:
Detective Lou Smit filed a motion asking Judge Roxanne Bailin to allow him to address the grand jury. It is not clear if Judge Bailin granted his motion, but on March 11, 1999, Smit testified before the jury. Later that same month, district attorney Alex Hunter signed an agreement allowing Smit to keep the evidence he had collected in the case, but prohibited Smit from "relaying prior conversations" with Ramsey prosecutors and not interfere with the on-going investigation.
No Indictments Returned:
After a year-long grand jury investigation, DS Alex Hunter announces that no charges will be filed and no one will be indicted for the murder of JonBenet Ramsey. At the time, several media reports suggested that it was Smit's testimony that swayed the grand jury to not return an indictment.
The Suspicions Continue: In spite of the grand jury decision, members of the Ramsey family continued to remain under suspicion in the media. The Ramseys adamantly proclaimed their innocence from the very beginning. John Ramsey said the thought that someone in the family could be responsible for JonBenet's murder was "nauseating beyond belief." But those denials did not keep the press from speculating that either Patsy, Burke or John himself were involved.
Burke Not a Suspect: In May 1999, Burke Ramsey was secretly questioned by the grand jury. The following day, authorities finally said that Burke was not a suspect, only a witness. As the grand jury began to wind down its investigation, John and Patsy Ramsey are forced to move from their Atlanta-area home avoid the onslaught of media attention.
Ramseys Fight Back: In March 2002, the Ramseys release their book, "The Death of Innocence," about the battle they have fought to reclaim their innocence. The Ramseys filed a series of libel lawsuits against media outlets, including the Star, the New York Post, Time Warner, the Globe and the publishers of the book A Little Girl's Dream? A JonBenet Ramsey Story.
Federal Judge Clears Ramseys: In May 2003, an Atlanta federal judge dismissed a civil lawsuit against John and Patsy Ramsey saying there was no evidence showing the parents killed JonBenet and abundant evidence that an intruder killed the child. The judge criticized the police and the FBI for creating a media campaign designed to make the family look guilty.
Part Two: New DA Takes Over